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Life At Sulphur Bluff, By Frank Brame
From the historical files of June E. Tuck, who does not validate or dispute any historical facts in the article. "Sharing with others to learn of Hopkins County and its people," Sulphur Springs Gazette, Oct. 1930
Former Citizen Tells Early Life At Sulphur Bluff, by Frank Brame
When I was a lad of about 12, I lived at Sulphur Bluff, in the eastern part of Hopkins County, Texas. Mr. George Hinnant had a ranch store there and also had some cattle on the range and a few horses. His main business was the store. He took in vast quantities of hides, wool, tallow, beeswax and cotton that he would freight to Jefferson and bring back all manner of ranch supplies, one of the important items being whiskey. In those days every rancher and farmer would buy his year's supply of whiskey, just as he bought his sack of coffee and barrel of sugar.
Mr. Hinnant had four teams for this purpose - two 3-yoke ox teams and two 6-mule teams - and he had a bunch of grown men employed who did nothing else but "team it" to Jefferson. Usually the ox teams would go out on Mondays, and the mule teams would follow three or four days later. I was only a kid, and of course could only do the "trash gang work" minding the cattle, milking the cows and breaking young colts to harness and young bull calves to the yoke. Of course, I'd spend many hours listening to the teamsters tell of their various and divers experiences on these trips and at Jefferson. And I had often importuned Mr. Hinnant to let me have a team, too. He was a kindly, big-hearted man and would tell me as soon as I was big enough he would let me do as I wished.
Living in Sulphur Bluff at that time was a great and good old man who was known and loved by every one. And Mr. Hinnant and he were special cronies, although he was a much older man than Mr. Hinnant. His name was Charles H. Simms, but everybody called him "Uncle Charley." Uncle Charley fought through the war of Texas Independence and was a great friend and admirer of Sam Houston and also of Deaf Smith. Uncle Charley could speak fifteen or twenty Indian dialects, and General Houston used him to keep the Indian tribes quiet, so that Santa Anna could be disposed of. Every Indian then living in Texas knew and loved Uncle Charley, and he had been made an adopted brother by most of the tribes, and Indians would come from all over the country to visit the old man as long as he lived. Uncle Charley had a large family of children. All had grown up and married except one girl, Puss, and she had elected to stay with her father and care for him as long as he lived, and to her eternal honor she faithfully kept the trust.
Hearing Uncle Charley talk to Mr. Hinnant about Houston, Deaf Smith and of those days, had fired my ambition and curiosity to know more, and often I'd go down on Sundays to his house and Miss Puss would cook a good dinner, and I'd listen by the hour to this great old man tell of his early days. I am telling all this in order to prepare the reader to understand fully about a trip I took to Jefferson.
One day Mr. Hinnant got an important letter that caused him to quickly hunt a man to take some letters to Turner & Wofford, of Mount Vernon, Texas; a firm with which he was in some way connected, and two of the letters were for Jefferson, one to D.B. Culberson and one to a large firm then at Jefferson known as Graham & Taylor, with whom Mr. Hinnant did a large business. The letter to Graham & Taylor was very important, and he wanted it delivered before the boat left for New Orleans, and the time was very limited, so short a time that no one of the men then around the store would undertake the trip, although he offered a dollar a day for the trip and a bonus of a twenty-dollar gold piece to get there before Little Feata No. 2 left for New Orleans. Twenty dollars was more money than I had ever owned, and I surely coveted that gold piece and of course begged Mr. Hinnant to let me try for it. At first he demurred, saying I was too young and it would be too hard a trip to make in short time.
Finally though he rather reluctantly consented, so I hurriedly saddled his sorrel mare while he fixed up the three letters, and about 1 o'clock p.m. I hiked for Mount Vernon, to which place I knew the way. I got to Turner & Wofford's about sundown, got a sack and gave the mare a bite and took a letter from them and started out across the piney woods so as to come out into the main Jefferson road at the big hill this side of Daingerfield. I did not intend to stop till I got to that place, but I got so awfully sleepy that I thought I'd stop and sleep a short while. So I laid down on the pine needles with bridle-rein over my arm, I supposed about 9:30 or 10 p.m. After sleeping for about 30 seconds (as it seemed) I was suddenly awakened by the most awful nose I had ever heard in my life. I sat up quickly, to find the mare quivering with fear and the awful noise sounding and resounding up and down the hills and dales of about fifteen counties adjacent.
The sound gradually died away, and as I still was alive and my scalp remained, I was somewhat relieved and straightway tried to figure out what on earth caused this terrible racket. Day was just breaking in the east, and I had lost valuable time, and I began to grieve about the probable loss of the gold piece, when I thought I heard a sound as of something or animal moving about 50 or 75 yards off to the right. I sat very still and watched closely until it became light enough so I could see a man moving about, and saw him gathering kindling and start a fire. I soon reasoned it out that I not only wasn't dead, but in all likelihood would not be put to death instantly, and as my courage gradually oozed back, I led my mare down to where the man was. He did not discover me until I was quite close, and when he did he was much startled and from somewhere produced a six-shooter about as long as a farmer's conscience and was promptly curious to know who the Sam Hill I was and what in the Sam Hill I meant, to creep up on an honest man in that fashion. Of coarse, I was sorry for the poor, frightened man and spoke kindly and soothing to him. At least I did the best a very frightened little boy could to appease the wrath of this tall, black-bearded giant. After becoming convinced that perhaps I was not dangerous to the peace and dignity of Texas and after I had explained who I was, where from and where going, he told me to tie my mare and eat a snack with him. I needed no second request, for be it known in those days I was known to be a might eater before the Lord, even if not renowned for prowess as a hunter. While eating, I was consumed with curiosity to know what caused the unearthly noise that frightened me. So I finally asked him about it. He laughed heartily and picked a hammer and hit a great big circular saw. He then explained that he was erecting a saw mill there and would beat on the saw to call some men to come and help him. He was very friendly and when I told him about Mr. Hinnant, he was more friendly than ever.
After getting outside of as much bacon and coffee as I could comfortably negotiate, I told him I must go. He told me a way to save several miles by taking a path through the pines and made me promise to come back and stay all night with him on the return trip. I went on the Jefferson, not learning the man's name; got there before the boat left, slept about 36 hours and went back and was in big humor with myself and all the world for what I'd buy with the gold piece. That night I stayed with my strange and new friend, we sat by the fire and talked a long time. He asked me how Mr. Hinnant was doing and other things. After smoking many pipes and much talk, he rolled up and slept the sleep of the just (or unjust, as the case might be.) Next morning I again successfully negotiated a huge repast and prepared to go.
After saddling my mare, he gave me three gold pieces and told me to give them to Mr. Hinnant and thank him. And then, in a sort of bashful way, he asked me if I knew any one up at Sulphur Bluff named Simms. I told him I did. He asked me all about Uncle Charley, how his health was, how he looked, all about Dolph, Curg, Ed, Mollie, and Martha Simms and I told him they were all in lusty health. So rather reluctantly he shook hands with me, and I started off. After going a short distance, he called me back and asked me, in a rather careless kind of way, if Uncle Charley didn't have a daughter named Puss. Said he seemed to remember that he had heard of her. I told him I knew her well and that she took a special delight in seeing how much I could eat when I went there. At this, he got very friendly and got another gold piece and gave it to me, saying this trip I was making was really worth $40, and he was giving me the twenty because he knew Mr. Hinnant hadn't thought about how valuable the trip was. At which we shook hands and again I started on. Again he called me back and carelessly asked me whether or not I might be at Uncle Charley's again in the next month or so. I told him I'd probably be there the next Sunday. He then said, "If you happen to think about it, you might sorter tell Puss you saw Black Biggerstaff, and by the way you might also tell her I'd be glad to get a letter."
This time I went on my way and was not called back. I got home in due time. Mr. Hinnant was in high good humor because I had delivered the letters before the boat left, and he also was glad to get the gold Biggerstaff sent him and told me how he had given him $60. once so he could get away from the Federal soldiers who wanted to put him in the stockade on some flimsy excuse.
I went down to Uncle Charley's, and Puss was glad to see me, as she always was, and when I told her what Biggerstaff said she almost shouted with joy and hugged and kissed me about a dozen times. Over and over again, she asked me all he had said, and just how he looked. At that time I was not old enough to exactly understand all of that, although I was even then beginning to cast admiring glances at Cora Cain, Mattie Clifton and some ten or a dozen others, all of whom were pretty, some just a little prettier than others.
Puss cooked me the best dinner I had yet had, and she didn't let me get to talk to Uncle Charley very much. Finally, I got curious and asked her what it was all about. She then told me that she and Black Biggerstaff had been sweethearts a long time, and that he had wanted her to marry him, but she told him she would not marry as long as her father lived. Time and again he had tried to get her to change her mind, until he had got mad and told her he wouldn't come back any more until she sent for him. Not very long after that the great soul of Uncle Charley passed to the Great above, and I took a letter from Puss to Black, and Black came up to Sulphur Bluff, in a six-mule wagon, bring a barrel of the best whiskey Jefferson could furnish. He and Puss were married one evening, and the next day a great "Infair" was given. All the country round about was there. The tables were placed in an oak grove just south and in front of Aunt Cindy Gregg's and were loaded down with the best eatables on earth. The barrel of whiskey stood open to all with a dozen tin cups, tied to the sides. They danced all day, and such an "Infair" has never been seen in Texas since that day.
The next day Black loaded up the big six-mule wagon with Miss Puss' things, and they went joyfully to their home, and I've never seen my good friend, Puss, again.
I am reminded of all these episodes of the long ago today by accidentally meeting a man who told me Puss has been dead for many years, but that her daughter lived in Greenville. And I am going to hunt her up and see if she looks like her splendid mother. I want to add that in those days everybody had whiskey just as they had groceries, and that I knew nearly every boy and man in Sulphur Bluff country, and that I never saw a man or boy the least under the influence of whiskey in my life, and I've wondered what would happen now, 60 years later after that famous "Infair", were any one to open a 50-gallon barrel to the public, with no strings to one drink or a dozen.
Of the firm of Graham & Taylor, one of that I was afterwards to meet, know and love as D. W. H. Taylor, of Greenville, Texas. For quite a time he was bookkeeper for the late J. D. Lasater, and still later was City Clerk of Greenville. A better man, citizen and official never lived. I think every one loved this good man.
Added by June E. Tuck
Sulphur Bluff Cemetery
Hinnant, George A. - b. 25 June 1843, d. 27 Mar. 1913
Hinnant, Mary E. - b. 17 Feb. 1848, d. 10 Jan. 1918
Resolution of respect by the Sulphur Bluff Lodge No. 246 A. F. & A. M. (Obituary)
Mr. George A. Hinnant was born in Alabama 25 June 1843, came to Texas with his parents in 1855 and settled at Daingerfield. He married Miss Mary E. Woods, 12 Aug. 1867. He died at his home in Sulphur Bluff, 27 Mar. 1913. He served 4 years in the Confederate States Army. He moved to Sulphur Bluff in 1868 and entered the mercantile business, which business he continued until his death. He leaves a wife and three children, W. A. Hinnant who is continuing his father's mercantile business at Sulphur Bluff. Texas, G. L. Hinnant who is Cashier of the M. & P. Bank in Mt. Vernon, Texas, and Mrs. W. C. Carother of Sulphur Springs, Texas. Committee: L. L. Shoffit, O.H. Mahaffey, L. L. Miller
There was a J. B. Bickerstaff, known as Black Bickerstaff, who lived in the Mt. Vernon area. J.B. was a brother to Benj. F. Bickerstaff who was one of the trouble makers in the Northeast Texas area and caused the Federal Troops to come into Sulphur Springs during the Reconstructions Days. The Troops built a Federal Stockade in Sulphur Springs. Documented reports from what was going on during those days can be found in a book Civil War Shadows in Hopkins County, Texas, by June E. Tuck, found in larger libraries.